Rollins Seeks Patience From Phillies Fans

The Phillies are one of the most storied franchises in sports. Names such as Ashburn, Roberts, Schmidt, Rose, Carlton, Luzinski, Schilling and Rolen have graced the backs of red pinstriped jerseys over the history of the franchise. However, the fact that those great names have come into and out of town has not translated into October glory for the club. The Phillies are the losingest franchise in the history of professional sports, yet fans remain constant.

Every April regardless of the heartbreak of the season before, fans pack the ball yards of Philadelphia in droves to support their latest cast of characters hoping to end the city's championship drought. The same fans who remember the epic collapse of 1964, sat on the edge of their seats as the Wheeze Kids of 1983 lost three games in a row at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, ending their championship hopes. Then just a decade later we all remember Joe Ca... It's just too painful. But yet those same fans and fans from generation to generation continue to invest their time and energy into this club each and every summer. With just one World Series trophy and one parade, these fans have been through a lot.

Next year always seems to be two or three years away and because of this, Philadelphia fans can easily be classified as the most loyal in all of sports. From the outside it can easily be assessed that Phillies fans are loyal to a fault. However, as faithful as these fans are to their own, they hold a high standard for the players who wear Phillies pinstripes. Mediocrity simply won't cut it. Fans in Philadelphia demand excellence and wear their opinions on their sleeves. This Phillies club, together in part for seven seasons, has yet to live up to expectations originating not only from the fans, but the organization as well.

The nucleus of this club has been together for much of the past decade. Bobby Abreu has been in town now for the past seven years. Randy Wolf has seen six seasons of lackluster baseball during his career. And perhaps the most mediocre and detrimental figure of this nucleus, Mike Lieberthal has been behind the dish for the Phillies for count 'em, 11 seasons. But that is a different column for a different day.

The leadoff hitter for this club, Jimmy ".235 batting average" Rollins, has manned the shortstop position for the past half decade. Now, I like Jimmy Rollins. I think that he is arguably the best shortstop both offensively and defensively in the National League, even though he simply is not a leadoff hitter. Rollins is an integral part of this franchise going forward, if he and the front office so choose. It would be wise of this front office to build around a middle infield of Rollins and Chase Utley for the foreseeable future. But Rollins is dead wrong when it comes to the fans of this city and this team in particular.

In an interview this past week, Rollins launched the shot heard ‘round South Philly. Rivaled only by Ricky Watters' "For Who, for What?!" tantrum in 1995 as the single dumbest thing said by an athlete in Philadelphia. After another game blown in part by both the players and manager Charlie Manuel, Rollins quipped "Patience is a virtue, and it'd be nice to see patience from a Philly fan, but that's not what they're known for. And you'd better believe, they like the reputation." Rollins must seem to forget the past five years of his career have all ended without October baseball. Not to mention the 10,000 loss plateau about to be crossed by this team sometime next April.

You can call Philadelphia fans many things. Passionate? Of course. Overbearing? At times, yes. Opinionated? Absolutely. In your face? You gotta believe it. But impatient simply is not a characteristic of this fan base. The players may be right, this may very well be the toughest town to play in. But all in all Philadelphia is by far the best sports town in all of America. Where else have fans hung on with more fervor year after year following 88 consecutive seasons without celebrating a championship by any of the four major sports teams?

Philadelphia is not a town for those with thin skin. In a blue collar city such as Philadelphia, athletes like Rollins will find out rather quickly how the tide that is fan support can turn against them in the blink of an eye. One remark such as labeling Philly fans as "impatient" is powerful enough to alienate him from the fan base. In a contract season in which Rollins has struggled in recent weeks, he cannot afford any distractions, let alone ones brought upon himself by his comments to the media.

In Rollins' defense he has not lived through the thin and thinner times that residents of the Delaware Valley have gone through in the past two generations. He wasn't around when the Phillies blew a 10 game lead in 10 days in 1964, nor was he in town for the '93 series or the struggles the other teams in the city have faced. This is simply the latest bombshell being dropped on Phillies fans by the organization that has stolen baseball from this city over the past 24 years.

This is an organization that hasn't quite grasped the fine art of public relations under the current regime. With a team that perennially finds itself on the outside looking in at post season play, one would think the organization would treasure each and every fan it has. That simply has not been the case. Ed Wade and company have repeatedly questioned the baseball knowledge of a fan base that has been raised around sports, and most notably baseball. The team has even gone as far as to label itself a "small market team", when at the time, Philadelphia was the fourth largest market in the United States. And now, Rollins finds the nerve to call the fans impatient? It's a wonder more fans haven't been turned off completely by this club.

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